Jason Ratigan

Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.

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This Movie Is Worth Getting "Contracted" Review

Do you need a tampon?

When you think you've done a tinkle and you find the toilet looks like the inside of an abattoir, it might not just be a heavy flow. In Contracted (2013), Sam (Najarra Townsend), a budding botanist, is date raped by a shadowy creeper and wakes up with a nasty hangover and some messy sheets. She tries to deny it, but as her symptoms get worse (and worse), no answers present themselves. Somehow, she lets her ordinary problems take precedence, especially her deteriorating relationship with Nikki (Katie Stegeman). Her mother (Caroline Williams) and friends, like Alice (Alice Macdonald), try to steer her towards help, but she might have got something that nobody can help her with.

Apr
18
2014
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"Philomena" Is So Good, You'll Want To Pronounce Its Title Correctly Review

You think I should do a human interest story?

Of all the films nominated for Best Picture this year, Philomena (2013) is the only one I would describe as flawless. As a piece of old-fashioned human interest, unlikely to be confused for an "important" film, it was primarily seen as a showcase for Judi Dench. Thus, its nomination for Best Picture is rather strange which greater transparency in the voting process might have illuminated. Perhaps those voters saw a film that is tender, funny, terrifically produced and tells a true (and thus un-editable) story with a massive stutter step right in the middle that should have destroyed it. That it not only survives the 'twist', but then resolves its story to absolute satisfaction will be credited greatly to the performances and the charm of the true heroine, Philomena Lee. Maybe a little of it should go to Stephen Frears and screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope.

Apr
16
2014
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"Warrior Assassin" Slain By Its Mortal Enemy-Competence Review

He wants to kill every kung-fu fighter in the world.

Oh no. A martial arts movie that looks and sounds like a soap opera. Can a low budget film be overproduced? Funny you should ask, because the answer is, apparently, "Yes, yes it can." How did director Dou Xiao get no money for the camera equipment--it looks dreadfully cheesy--but still get a crane and horses? Warrior Assassin (2013) is the story of two kung-fu adherents who seek revenge on a common foe. Sounds interesting and might actually have been interesting if it wasn't the barest excuse to string together a line of relatively bland and aimless fight scenes. What is there to save this film from being a total waste of time? Irony.

Apr
16
2014
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"Inn Of The Sixth Happiness" Finds A Home On Blu-ray Review

Help? How can you help?

The single greatest aspect of the wide expansion and adoption of Blu-ray on home video is that underseen films like The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) are reborn for a new generation looking as good or better than they ever did in cinemas. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is an epic biography of Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) and her joyfully tenacious attraction to missionary work in China in the early half of the 20th century. While it is not a masterpiece, it is a thoroughly pleasant film that will appeal to many, whether fans of Bergman, historical epics, exotic travel, or plain old classics. Most plot summaries describe the long trek Gladys undertook to bring children out of harm's way, but there is a great deal more to it than that. It is a film like many others--South Pacific (1958), The King and I (1956), Dances with Wolves (1992), and maybe a little Doctor Zhivago (1965)--but it still has an identity and is well worth a look.

Apr
13
2014
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The Empress "Mademoiselle C" Has No Clothes Review

You have to love the camera.

If you know who Carine Roitfeld is, then you'll probably love her vanity project, Mademoisell C (2013). The film documents her brief self-employed period--between editor-in-chief at Vogue Paris and Global Fashion Director for Harpers Bazaar--publishing her own fashion book CR. Many documentaries are pieced together by some nameless technician, Mademoiselle C is directed (mostly) with taste and a particular vision by Fabien Constant (who has a number of other fashion-centric documentaries to his credit). To say "mostly" was generous. In terms of screen time, Mademoiselle C most often resembles yet another Bravo competition fashion show, i.e. pointless, ineloquent, and (whenever possible) name-dropping. But when Constant gets on with the well-accompanied montage, cinematographers Raphael Laski and Matt Elkind create something special, not out of place in a well-produced narrative film.

Apr
12
2014
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"Out Of The Furnace" And Back Into The Editor's Suite Review

"You got a problem with me?" "I got a problem with everybody."

Out of the Furnace (2013) had a rough time in the box office. In early December, audiences were spoiled for choice and a revenge thriller--as it was advertised--didn't bring a crowd. They might be forgiven for feeling that they'd already seen this kind of movie before. Another dark film set in working class America, hard-done by in these economic times and men being men. There was The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), Prisoners (2013), and Killing Them Softly (2013) in one year alone. Then again, people didn't really go to see those movies either. Did they make the right decision? Like the 52% Rotten Tomatoes score suggests, yes and no. Out of the Furnace is an evocative film and heavy with many very good performances. But it isn't satisfying in the way Hollywood has trained us to see revenge. It's supposed to be exhilarating or tragic. With Out of the Furnace, it's mostly empty.

Apr
06
2014
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"Beyond Outrage", Beyond Plot, Beyond Characterization Review

The police have a reputation to protect.

Picking up where Outrage (2010) left off, Beyond Outrage (2012) goes a bit further.  With Otomo (Takeshi Kitano) in prison and the Sanno yakuza family in ascension, the police (particularly Det. Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata)) stir the pot by pitting one set of gangsters against another.  When Kataoka tries and fails to use the ambitious Tomita (Akira Nakao) to lure the Hanabishi into a war with the Sanno, he goes back to Otomo--a badass killer of the old school--to team up with Kimura (Hideo Nakano)--who, incidentally, stabbed Otomo in jail for killing his (Kimura's) former boss and permanently, hideously scarring his face--to use their mutual grudge against Kato (Tomokazu Miura), the current Chairman of the Sanno (who, incidentally, got to that position by murdering his former boss in the last movie) and bring the Hanabishi into war with the Sanno.  It seems a bit complicated, and writer/director/star "Beat" Takeshi certainly relies on this complication to carry the film, but if you apply the rule "someone always wants to kill someone else", there will be little surprise.

Mar
30
2014
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Nothing Good's Hiding In "Dark House" Review

How am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea?

There's a pretty good movie that you've probably heard of called The Dead Zone (1983).  It was a movie from David Cronenberg based on a Stephen King book where a man could see someone's future just by touching them.  This lead the character on a battle against fate.  Dark House (2014) is about Nick Di Santo (Luke Kleintank) who touches people and knows how they will die (if it's gruesome enough).  After his lunatic mother dies, Nick is bequeathed a house, a house he's been drawing all of his life.  So, with his subtly named pregnant girlfriend Eve (Alex McKenna) and buddy Ryan (Anthony Rey Perez), Nick goes in search of his ancestral home.  Once they get in the neighborhood, they run in to Scut Farkus (Zack Ward)--who has changed his name to Chris and become a geological surveyor--and his partners Lilith (Lacey Anzelc) and Sam (Ethan S. Smith).  Then the crazy ax people, led by Seth (Tobin Bell), show up.

Mar
29
2014
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"Swerve" Misses The Guardrail Review

Reminds me of the story of The Merchant of Baghdad.

Despite its cover, which looks like a harrowing, rural-gothic affair of violence and nihilism of the Cormac McCarthy variety, Swerve is actually a cheeky crime-thriller with a dark sense of humor. Like an Australian version of 2 Days in the Valley (1996) with fewer characters and less style. Written and directed by Craig Lahiff, Swerve has wound is way into the Cohen collection as yet another piece of indie entertainment. Forget about competing with Criterion, this title is a better fit at IFC tab among any catalog of purportedly "important" films. No film should be judged by the company it keeps, but when an Aussie caper sits next to a film by D. W. Griffith, it makes you wonder what Cohen thinks they have.

Mar
29
2014
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"Artist And The Model" Asks You To Take A Side Review

Don't worry, he's a good man, but an artist.

A young Catalan girl, Mercè (Aida Folch), has escaped Franco's Spain and found herself in a cozy French town (occupied by the Nazis). Mercè is spotted by Léa (Claudia Cardinale) as a potential model for her husband Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort), a sculptor. In another film, this could well be the start of some very nefarious doings, but in The Artist and the Model (2013), things are exactly as advertised. The hungry refugee takes the job and, the next day, finds herself standing, au natural, moving at the direction of this remote, elderly artist. He gives little consolation or explanation to the young woman, single-mindedly searching for "an idea." He sketches, sculpts, and paints her in many poses, but never to his liking. The world around him is at war, but he stands in his safe little corner surrounded by naked women, living and stone.

Mar
29
2014
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"Enough Said", But It Should Certainly Be More Widely Seen Review

Divorced...ten years.

Enough Said (2013), from writer/director Nicole Holofcener in another addition to the middle aged relationship drama--because if I don't reduce her work to a simplistic label, who will?--has gone for something a little more touching than painful. Sure, they hurt each other and Catherine Keener is around, so it's still a Holofcener picture, but Enough Said inspires far more happy laughs and sighs of delight than her last film Please Give (2010). What will attract most to this film, other than the Golden Globe nomination for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is that this is one of James Gandolfini's final films before his untimely death. Many have felt some consolation that Gandolfini could go out on a film like Enough Said that was a quality movie and expressed his gentle, lovable side rather than another gritty tough-guy role. I just want to see some more.

Jan
29
2014
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"Beauty Of The Devil" Is A Hard Bargain To Turn Down Review

I can give you another life.

Before the New Wave, there were French film institutions like Jean Renoir and René Clair. They began with the silent era and continued on to direct, at least in Renoir's case, what are widely held to be some of the best films of all time. Then came the French New Wave and the critic-filmmakers François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard who pushed back against the institution--too frivolous, too much fantasy, cliché. Beauty of the Devil (1950), made in the Autumn of Clair's career, would have been a film everyone knew if it were made in English (and/or color). It is charming, fantastic, and a classic in every way. It is the story of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the devil.

Jan
29
2014
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Don't Start With "For Ever Mozart" if You're New to Godard Review

Very few people see.

For Ever Mozart (1996) from Jean-Luc Godard is half Contempt (1963), a quarter The Seventh Seal (1957), and a quarter In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011).  Like every Godard film I've ever seen, I was challenged, annoyed, depressed, and moved.  Most films, if you're patient enough, can be appreciated in some way.  Godard actively antagonizes patience by confusing the narrative, using theatricality, and hammering home philosophical dialogue.  If you're on his wavelength, then the experience is probably an exhilarating one.  But, as with other modern poets, I am a world apart.  Where is the consistency?  Where are we going?  Where are the rest of the damn subtitles!?

Jan
28
2014
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This is a "Blind Date" Worth Showing Up For Review

Buckle up Walter, you're in enough trouble as it is!

Blake Edwards, the middle brow genius, if you don't mind my calling him that, behind The Pink Panther (1963), brings us an entry in that excellent comic sub-genre, the worst night ever.  But unlike After Hours (1985), the night from hell in Blind Date (1987) is just the beginning.  Edwards takes Dale Launer's screenplay and finishes with a final act that is uniquely his own in style.  One significant difference is that while the Pink Panther films ended on ambiguous notes for hero and love interest, the 1980's will not allow for anything but a set up for a final kiss and a happily-ever-after.  The original music by Henry Mancini runs exactly parallel with its 80's-ness.

Jan
28
2014
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Some Of These "Greatest Mysteries" Should Have Been Solved By Now Review

What if it were true?

Here’s a list of the episode titles you can enjoy in the “Best of” Ancient Aliens: Aliens and the Third Reich, Alien Tech, Angels and Aliens, Unexplained Structures, Aliens and Mysterious Rituals, Aliens and Ancient Engineers, Aliens, Plagues and Epidemics, and, finally, Aliens and Lost Worlds. How appropriate that this collection, the proof of the inevitable demise of the History Channel, begins with a combination of its new, pathetic sensationalism (Aliens) and its old obsession (World War II). Very early in the first episode, talking about rockets, one of their ‘experts’ says that the Germans were working on something called New York rocket because that’s how far they engineered for it to go. Fair enough. They also planned Mars rocket, so, you know, they probably had their eyes set on space travel. Absolutely, because as we all know the Germans had one form of nomenclature, which was name a thing for where you want it to go. Purely coincidentally, I’m sure, Mars is also the Roman god of war.

Jan
21
2014
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There Are Whole New Worlds Inside "Berberian Sound Studio" Review

The new world of sound awaits you.

Some movies are born strange, some achieve strangeness, and some have strangeness thrust upon them. Berberian Sound Studio (2013) is a pretty strange film. Writer-director Peter Strickland tells the story with a loose grip on chronology. Sometimes scenes are replayed with different languages, they shift seamlessly into and out of the studio without explanation, and much of the time it isn’t clear if what we see is actually happening. There’s a line to be crossed in the “mind-bending” genre where the film keeps bending until your mind snaps in half. Berberian Sound Studio’s pace is such that my shapely brain was slowly bent into a pretzel without ultimately breaking apart. It isn’t in a tight knot where I can see how it all ties together, but it’s pretty enough as it is that I can fully recommend the experience.

Jan
21
2014
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"American Bomber" Sets Us To Threat Level Midnight Review

Now he’s out there, doin’ his part.

There aren’t many things scarier than a bomb. It’s indiscriminate and unpredictable. Bombs are a particular fear of mine. Looking at the cover of American Bomber (2013), mushroom cloud coming out of the Empire State Building, I was faced with my second greatest fear: low budget thrillers. I’ve seen a couple in my time and nothing quite hurts like bad dialogue, cheap and wobbly camerawork, and sub-Guffman performances. That’s a triple threat...set to level orange. [That’s my impression of bad dialogue. A bad writer has never found a dated, pseudo-profound metaphor s/he didn’t like.] But it didn’t take long before I realized I could calm down, the worst would not happen. It’s not a nuke, the target isn’t [spoiler alert] a large civilian population, and the common flaws of low budget work are not nearly as bad as they might have been (though each arrives at times).

Jan
21
2014
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Something Just Feels Off About This "Night Train to Lisbon" Review

It is death and only death that gives each moment beauty and horror.

Citizen Kane (1941), known by some as the best movie of all time, gave the world the plot device of an intrepid investigator who brings out the story through a series of flashbacks.  Each flashback is a piece of the puzzle, framing the story and slowly filling in the center until the final piece unsatisfyingly drops into place to resolve the whole.  It has be used and re-used until today we are faced with Night Train to Lisbon (2013), a film destined for repeated use as schedule filling on cable television or Netflix inventory-building, loved by some attracted by the name of Jeremy Irons and ignored by everyone else.  Though rather existential and thinky, it is ultimately charming.  As Anthony Blanche once said to Charles Ryder, “Charm is the great English blight...it warps and k-kills anything it touches. It k-kills love, it k-kills art, and I greatly fear my dear Charles that it has k-k-killed you.”

Jan
13
2014
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If You Take Anything Away from "Drinking Buddies", It's That When Olivia Wilde Asks If You Want to Go Skinny Dipping, You Go Skinny Dipping Review

We need to talk.

There’s a sound in a person's voice when they’re improvising.  You hear it a lot in reality television when they explain a plan or sum up the situation.  It’s a little higher pitch than usual, the pauses are awkward because they’re trying to fill the silence, and there’s a lot more agreement than you’ll ever find in real life.  The biggest rule of improvisation is “Yes, and...” so that the scene stays alive.  Drinking Buddies (2013), from director Joe Swanberg, is entirely improvised by the actors according to a plot outline.  Although that makes Swanberg’s camera work doubly impressive, it does raise an interesting question about the importance and value of screenwriting against the ‘honesty’ of the moment investigated by actors.  Ultimately, however, you (or I) have to assess the finished product and not the process.  What movie did they make here?  A pretty good one.  But there was too much left un-unsaid.

Jan
12
2014
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"Ghost Team One" Is Funnier Than It Looks Review

Does a racist have a black drug dealer named Tug? No.

It doesn’t happen too often anymore, but sometimes the cover is worse than the movie. The Blu-ray cover for Ghost Team One (2013) looks like the lowest, broadest, dumbest comedy ever, as if Scary Movie 5’s (2013) second unit director put $500 of his own money into a parody of Paranormal Activity 4 (2012). Look at the face they’re pulling. What is that? The promo quotes they’ve got, like “Pure comedy gold...brilliant” or “profane, randy, oversexed, and wonderfully juvenile”, seemed highly untruthful. And yet, it was pretty hilarious. It’s pretty raw with a fair amount of poor taste, but it is very funny and looks sharp and professional.

Jan
06
2014
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